Universalism versus the belief in an eternal hell


(Mitchell W McKain) #1

Since another thread went way off track because of this topic, perhaps we need this thread so people can state their case. But please to do not troll this by carrying disputes from other threads into this one. Just state your position. Tell us what univeralism means to you and why you believe this. There is no need to tell us what other participants on the forum believe, they can speak for themselves.

My position is as follows.

  1. The issue of universalism is not a Christian essential and does not define Christianity either way. There is a long tradition of Christian fathers who liked some form of universalism. In case this hasn’t made it clear for you, this means there is no contradiction between universalism and Christianity – none whatsoever!

  2. However I disagree with universalism. I don’t think it is consistent with what I see in the Bible or what I see of human behavior in the world either.

  3. I believe in heaven and hell, not as places created by God for reward and punishment but as the consequences of the two fundamental principles of creation and destruction. Thus they represent a polarization in the ultimate destinies of the human spirit. There is a competition within us between the creative forces of growth and learning and the destructive forces of the bad habits of sin – and accepting help from others or not may be a big part of this. Thus there are two directions we can go and further you go on either of these paths the faster you go.

  4. I believe there is a fundamental difference between life and after-life. In life the laws of nature force things upon us – both relationships and consequences of our actions, providing many ways in which we can change. After we die, however, this is gone and we are largely stuck with what we have made of ourselves, at least as far as which of those two direction we are going in. This does not mean we will have no help, but I think this is only possible if we have made the required connections within us and thus this is part of the question of which direction we are going in.

  5. Love does not always win. This is demonstrable. Furthermore, there is no such thing as “the power of love.” If it is a means of power then it isn’t love. That is just using the word “love” as part of an effort to manipulate people.

  6. Even though heaven and hell is not about reward and punishment for what we do, I do believe that there are consequences of our actions which are inescapable. I think that whichever of these two directions we go, we will have good reason to be grateful for every good thing we have done and reason to regret every bad thing.

Now I certainly don’t think this is a universalist position – not by any stretch of the imagination. But go ahead and make your definitions of universalism and non-universalism and make your claims that I do or do not fit your definitions or whatever.


(RiderOnTheClouds) #2

I (a Noachide) follow the Jewish teachings on hell:

  1. Hell exists, but is more of a purgatory like state.

  2. Most sinners spend only 12 months in hell.

  3. Only the very worst sinners are barred from the World to Come.

  4. In my opinion, these sinners are those who ‘know’ they are sinning, but do it nonetheless, or are unrepentant.


(George Brooks) #3

I don’t think there’s much to say about your analysis of Christianity.

My complaint was that you failed to capture the sense of Universalism.

You state that Universalism is not compatible with Christianity; I would agree that this is generally so - - In Practice - - but that the Chess Master analogy is the way to reconcile the two systems of thought.


(Mitchell W McKain) #4

you are trolling with your pursuit of this ridiculous vendetta!

I said precisely the opposite about compatibility with Christianity in number 1 above.

Like in the other thread you continue to ignore everything I say and just make thing up!

State your own position and stop making up things about other people!


(George Brooks) #5

@mitchellmckain

I’ve stated my position. I’ll state it again. Universalism is not just “one position” that can be dismissed with the waive of a hand.

By eliminating Hell, Universalists focus on moral behavior as something that affects the afterlife.

You reject this assessment … and it is to your discredit.


(Shawn T Murphy) #6

I believe in the Restoration of All Things or the Apocatastasis which has been interpreted by a number of people in this forum as Universalism. I see Universalism as an incomplete subset of the Apocatastasis. I think the confusion in Christianity is with understanding time - the four eternities. Once you can comprehend these different eras, you can see how how the various ideas can get confused.

  • God lived alone in Heaven for an eternity. (Nothing is known of this time in the Bible.)
  • God Created from Himself His Only Begotten Son, Jesus and they lived together for an eternity, planning the creation in Heaven. (This period starts at John 1:1)
  • For an eternity, the population of Heaven grew exponentially, until there were countless spiritual beings. Then, slowly, Lucifer gathered 1/3 of Heaven behind his cause to become the second king of Heaven. (Revelations covers this time.)
  • The fall of 1/3 of Heaven starts in Revelations 12 and continues in Genesis 1, where God separated the light from the dark and created a firmament between the two – Heaven and Hell. The eternity that existed between the Fall and the salvation of Jesus is of unknown length, but this is the eternality that the fallen have suffered in Hell.

Jesus brought an end to the eternal suffering of the OT when He defeated Death [Satan]. Jesus created a new era, and era of restoration. We are just at the beginning of this era, and it must last as long as required to give all of the fallen an opportunity to reconcile with God, and become perfect once again as Jesus instructs (Matt 5:48).


(Quinn) #7

The Bible is very clear in that there is only one way to Heaven as state in Matthew 7:13-14. John 14:6. and Acts 4:12. I cannot accept universalism because if that was the case then Jesus suffering, death and resurrection were all for nothing, that is unless we are talking about Christian universalism/ultimate reconciliation. but if we are talking about the secular universalism i.e. Unitarian Universalism then Jesus death and suffering were all for nothing. But even if we are talking about the Christian universalist view of ultimate reconciliation then it is also useless cause ones needs faith in order to be saved.


(GJDS) #8

Universalism may be interpreted as salvation offered to all of humanity. Hell is imo equated with the place reserved for Satan and all who follow him.

While all humanity is offered salvation, scripture shows that should anyone intentionally refuse and freely choose to oppose God, then, and only then, such a soul joins Satan. I find it difficult to believe that anyone would refuse salvation once fully informed and understood, but the possibility is presented in scripture.


(Mitchell W McKain) #9

Not to step on any toes but… We already have a word for that. It is called prevenient grace, and it is in opposition to one of the five points of TULIP Calvinism, limited atonement. The meaning of universalism has always been something different, that God must ultimately win in His battle for every human soul – its not a bad thought to be sure. I certainly agree with prevenient grace, but though I can understand why and even be sympathetic with others who might like universalism – I respectfully disagree.

I guess an important related question which you also touch on is one of relative numbers. It is hard to ignore Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:13-14 which suggest that the relative numbers who don’t make it is rather large. On the other hand, it is hard to believe that a loving God would let this happen or that it is so impossible for that many to respond if they are given a second chance. One can definitely get a feeling that people who harp on Matthew 7:13-14 are indulging in a bit of self-righteousness. So perhaps it is tempting to think that Jesus exaggerates so that we would make more effort. …difficult question.


(Quinn) #10

I feel in what Jesus was saying is that a large majority of humanity will ignore the call of repentance while a equal large group of humanity will respond to the call of repentance. I feel in what he was saying is that people if left to their own depraved sinful wills will go off the wide path that leads to death unless God gives man the choice to have faith (prevenient grace).

All people at first refuse to believe and go away from God but when the Lord gives prevenient grace then humans have the choice to have faith by God’s assistance but at the same time people can refuse this. The Lord offers salvation to people while they are still alive on the earth and though they may resist at first the Lord won’t give up and continue to go after them until they surrender. Of course God already knows who is saved and who is not so He is not really concerned with trying to save people whom He knows will ultimately resist Him.


(Joshua Hedlund) #11

I just want to remark that while the title sets up a dichotomy between universalism and eternal hell, there is a position well within orthodoxy called annihilationism, which holds that hell exists but that it annihilates human beings rather than tormenting them forever.

This is based on an argument that the Scriptures overwhelmingly describe the immortality of eternal life, not in contrast with an immortality of eternal death, but rather as a gift that contrasts with the destruction of a one-time annihilation (ex. John 3:16 “shall not perish” vs. “have eternal life”, Romans 6:23 “wages of sin is death” vs “gift of God is eternal life”). The handful of Scriptures that do refer to an eternal time period of torment are argued to be referencing OT metaphoric imagery about the smoke of Sodom and Gomorrah going up forever and ever, which actually was an annihilation rather than a literal eternal burning, and that the language of eternity in those cases are better interpreted as referring to the finality or irreversibility of the destruction, rather than its ongoing nature in time.

(I am hesitant to fully commit myself to such a view, but the exegetical arguments for it seem very strong to me.)


(Mitchell W McKain) #12

Yes, I did leave out that alternative. Thanks for pointing this out. Should be obvious, since I left it out that I do not favor this view except in an effective sense. I don’t believe is possible to destroy a spirit by external forces – it is contrary to the very nature of what they are. But in a very real sense they are destroyed from within by the self-destructive habits of sin and it seems very likely to me that any time of conscious misery would be limited.


(GJDS) #13

This is also relevant to the judgement of God and His perfect justice (and mercy). When all is said regarding salvation and damnation, I am of the view that only God determines these things in their finality, and we accept the result on faith, without having full knowledge of any type of hell.


(Cindy) #14

Thanks for that word! This is what I am leaning towards. I also agree with @GJDS that God gives each soul a fair chance.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #15

What else (apart from Christian universalism) would we be talking about here? I take it that what you call “secular” or “Unitarian” universalism involves the denial that anybody needs saving in the first place. Most here would probably agree that this isn’t tenable. But Christian universalism has the rescue personnel (person) rescuing everybody from the burning house even though some emerge before others. This seems to me to acknowledge more meaning in Jesus’ death and resurrection than any other view.

As a non-Calvinist here, I was interested to hear from a Calvin-sympathetic friend of mine that Calvin himself actually never writes of or shows support for “Limited Grace” in any of his writings, and that this particular item of “TULIP” was largely the addition of later Calvin followers (I think he said Puritans). So the irony of that (if true) would be that Calvin himself may have only been a “four-point” Calvinist!

From any more knowledgeable ones who hearken from within those traditions, I’m curious to hear confirmation or rebuttal to this.


(Quinn) #16

On what you say that Christian universalism in that it has “the rescue personnel rescuing everybody form the burning house” the problem is that what if the people don’t want to be saved from the burning house? What if they want to live in the mess they made? The Bible is clear that faith is needed in order to be saved. as told in Hebrews 11:6 and Romans 4:5. Ephesians 2:8 doesn’t say “For by grace you have all been saved” no! Instead it says “For by grace you have been through *faith; and not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” Though Jesus did die for the whole world “John 3:16” The atonement is effective for the elect only as in those who come to Jesus Christ by faith. People are toltally depraved and won’t want anything with God unless prevenient grave is given and thus at that moment people are given the choice to believe or not. I suggest you read the Five Articles of Remonstrance as this describes how I personnaly view free will and election https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Articles_of_Remonstrance

Unitarian universalism is very secular and has in truth become a liberal-progressive religion friendship club were no one steps on each others toes and claims to be “spiritual” but is really just a get together club. They are only universalist in the sense that all religions are the same one way or another and that there may or may not be a god or afterlife. UUism offers nothing other then just a simple get together club.


(Mitchell W McKain) #17

It may depend on the actual church, but I have found its most defining characteristic to be a very high degree of intellectualism. It is a place where you are likely to find scientists and professors from the nearest university. Actual beliefs vary a great deal among the membership, for many may simply go there because they are tired of the rather simple minded and dogmatic way religious topics are treated in many other churches. I have gone a few times myself for this same reason. To be sure, as a group, they don’t have the strongest commitment to pushing doctrines on people like is done by so many churches as if they had a Gnostic gospel of salvation by correct doctrine. On the other hand, you could also complain there is lot of Christian beliefs and practice missing from what they do altogether and if you like the Bible and the teachings of Christianity then that can be a bit unsatisfying.


(Joshua Hedlund) #18

Thanks for your comments.

So would you not interpret Matthew 10:28 as evidence of this?

28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

(This, by the way, being another passage that all my life never occurred to me to suggest annihilation yet which now I can hardly see as suggesting anything but!)


(Mervin Bitikofer) #19

True enough! Salvation is not made with any force of compulsion. Some of us may indeed actually want to linger in our own mess rather than give up our pride or pleasure in this or that and humbly accept what we need. That our rejection of salvation - our stubbornness should be co-eternal with God’s grace extended through Christ is quite another claim entirely and one where I don’t see much (if any) scriptural support for those who would challenge eventual universalism. To say “few find the path to life” and “many are those who choose the road to perdition” is not the same as saying “few will ever find the path to life” and that the many on the road to hell will never ever be rescued! I think this instead is commentary on how easy it is to chase other things rather than God, and how few of us really seek God in our daily lives. A teacher can note that “very few people work this problem correctly” without that being commentary that most of the class is expected to permanently fail and never get it right. We are all rescued while we are still sinners! Yes - we do need to accept the gift; and many choose (for now) not to. To say that God’s grace was only efficacious for the very few is to empty it of its scope and power! I think I’ll stick with scriptures on this one.

An old joke: There was a crotchety old man who was always critical of everyone else. No one could ever do anything right according to his own high standards. He died and went to heaven. While there he was able to look over and see large crowds in hell who were partying it up and seemed to be having quite a good time. Meanwhile, God was preparing the banquet feast - some microwaved hot dogs. As He was setting the table, the man said, "God - I don’t mean to complain here, but it looks like they’re enjoying quite a feast over there and … well … re-warmed hot dogs for us?! To which God replied, “yeah - I know. It’s just hard to get into cooking just for the two of us.”


(Mitchell W McKain) #20

No.

One of my problems with the word “soul” is that it is a bit difficult to know what it referring to exactly in a particular usage… mind? life? person? or the pagan transmigrating thing which moves from one body to another. The original word in Greek is “psychen” to which I compared the word in 1 Cor 15 for spirit which in Greek is pneuma.

In addition to this, I have already explained that the spirit can be destroyed internally and frankly it is not terribly clear who Jesus is referring to in Matt 10:28. I think the one you really need to be afraid of most and who can destroy your spirit is yourself.

Now this is not to say that there is no place for a fear of God. I think there is, but not in the usual sense, for God loves us and acts in our best interest more than anybody. I think the proper fear of God has to do with the fact that God cannot be manipulated in any way. Some might prefer the word “respect” but I think this can be described as abject terror when you are too addicted to control or you are a bit too full of yourself. But in the bigger picture, I am utterly opposed to idea of salvation as saving us from God as if He were a mafia Godfather running a protection racket. Rather He is saving us from ourselves and it is we who are the real danger to our eternal well being.